#052 Being Self-Assured and Notes From The Underground

Staying true to our genre of twenty-somethings spinning out theories of life, this post draws from my recent encounter with Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground, and goes on to question the need to be self-assured. Lately I’ve been exploring my various shadow selves, and am now comfortable enough to write about it in a somewhat objective fashion. Buyer beware: Notes is the one book you’re not supposed to read when you’re in despair. But fuggetaboutit. We’ve chosen to write for the damned anyways.

Conventional wisdom frowns on the self-assured individual. The person in the bar who dances like a jackass and yet, somehow, feels good about it. The person who has serious, visible issues and yet is self-confident in ways the average person can’t be. This contrast fucks people up. How can you be so terrible and yet be so happy? Why aren’t you on our train, chasing the promised dream?

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Notes is not just a book about the perils of not being self-assured. It also explores what happens when we take the so-called good things in life- being well-read, holding yourself and others to high moral standards, philosophizing- to the other extreme. It’s a classic case of too much of anything is bad.

Our underground man, our unreliable narrator, aims to present himself without a filter. Whether he succeeds or not is another question altogether, but I will tell you this: If you belong to that class of introspectors who think that anything that’s self-critical has to be true, this book is going to mess you up. Inside out. This book taught me that even self-criticism, when taken to the extreme, without any self-love, quickly becomes delusional and paves the way for spite and decay.

“To be overly conscious is a sickness.” There’s a thin red line between healthy self-consciousness and the kind that our man has. Reminds me of that David Foster Wallace quote: “There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.” Maybe what we need is mindfulness, not hyper self-consciousness. Also, I think it’s kind of important to be super conscious of the world around us, instead of ourselves. I don’t matter as much as I think I do. This is water, this is water, I tell myself.

The Transgressive Spiteful Side of “Notes from the Underground”, http://dostoevsky-bts.com/blog/transgressive-spiteful-side-notes-underground/

Or as one YouTube reviewer, Steve Santerre, pointed out, was the Underground Man better than us? He says: “As far as I myself am concerned, I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway, and, what’s more, you’ve taken your cowardice for good sense, and found comfort in thus deceiving yourselves. So that I, perhaps, come out even more “living” than you.”

And why can’t he love? Why can’t he see his pain and see that others have similar pains? And when he does see, why does he side with tyranny?

Here’s one for the book-nerd who thinks he can get away with not talking to people and learning from them: “I was so used to thinking and imagining everything from books, and to picturing everything in the world to myself as I had devised it beforehand in my dreams, that at first, I didn’t even understand this strange circumstance. What occurred was this: Liza, whom I had insulted and crushed, understood far more than I imagined;. She understood from it all what a woman, if she loves sincerely, always understands before anything else- namely, that I myself was unhappy.”

#051 The Resistance To Your Practice

Since I’ve started obsessing over the idea of doing a hundred reps of a ton of stuff, a lot has changed about the way I approach things. We’ll get to that in a minute. Before that, here’s a list of all the do 100 or 1000 reps projects I’ve been thinking/fantasizing about (the difference?):
– Build 100 things. Upload to GitHub. (03/100)
– Write 100 blog-posts here. (51/100)
– Play 100 short piano/keyboard clips. Post to Instagram. (08/100)
– Do 1000 workouts. (17/1000)
– Do 100 meditations. (18/100) (I’m reading The Mind Illuminated)

I remember being able to write much faster. And better. It’s probably not true and the likelier explanation is that my writing wasn’t nearly as good as I then thought it was. Dunning-Kruger effect in action. But, the idea that my writing was once that good, or that even if it was that bad in the past, expecting it to be “much better” now makes me want to give up on this project.

Here’s the thing about ideas. You don’t get them in one go. The first draft is going to be pure shit. When I say pure shit, I mean Pure Shit, to be more eloquent. It took me days of polishing to get a post right. By right, I mean something that doesn’t get deleted by future me. What I’m forgetting right now is how much effort old me was putting into this stuff, and that discrediting my old efforts is a surefire way to kill any future effort.

Our brains slip into a nothing-really-matters mode if we don’t occasionally pause to pat our own backs. Particularly true when our positive reinforcement needs aren’t met by the external environment.

It’s kind of hard to get back on the blogging train after almost a year of little to no progress, but here we are.

Yesterday, when I was goofing around the internet, I ended up at Jacob’s blog, Put A Num On It! He had this post about his writing process. And about how he started out treating his blog like it was a place to hone his skills, rather than as a place to feature his finished work. It was interesting and uplifting to learn that the big boys of the sphere, Scott Alexander and Tim Urban, both spent years and years honing their craft on throwaway blogs.

That year I had a chance to meet two of my favorite bloggers, Scott Alexander and Tim Urban, and discovered that they had both honed their writing skills on lesser known blogs for several years before relaunching as SSC and WBW. My plan at launch was to write for a small audience until 2020, then scrap Putanumonit and launch a new blog with everything I will have learned about writing.

Good old internet serendipity doing its thing.

It’s interesting to me to find out what my limits are. How much can my mind and body be trained? Where am I going to get stuck along the 100/1000 reps journey and say that this is my actual limit, that I can’t push anymore? And what’s going to happen if I somehow just push and make it to the other side?

The other big advantage to this approach to setting goals, is low expectation. The way I see it, right now, I really don’t care much about what I look like or how strong I’m going to be at the end of 100/1000 workouts. I’m curious, but that’s okay. The lowered expectation helps me keep going when there’s no positive reinforcement from the external environment. In a way, it makes me less needy.

I read Nick Winter’s The Motivation Hacker early last year. One idea from that book is a neat summarization of the infamous motivation equation. For the uninitiated, the equation looks something like this:

Motivation = (Expectation * Value) / (Impulsivity * Distraction)

I’m starting to rethink the validity of that equation. I’m starting to wonder if I even need an equation like that.

I think about all the things I’m super motivated to do, and wonder if there’s something in there that I can transfer over to other areas of life. A lot of my friends seem to hate the idea of working out and to be honest, I never understood why. To me, it’s just something that I want to do every single day, and there’s huge pleasure involved in it.

The other thing that the book is big on is making bets with others and finding accountability partners. Never worked for me. In fact, it ends up doing more harm than good.

Obviously, as with many things, there’s a huge genetic/personality component to it. You might be super motivated to do such and such a thing, but have absolutely no motivation to do the other thing. I could be the polar opposite. Is motivation really something we can transfer from one field to another, then? Isn’t the thing in itself supposed to “pull” me, as opposed to me having to push myself?

And by the way, I’m going to get comfortable shitposting here for a while. It should come as no surprise to you that a high quality post like this one should have taken over a year to compose. Well, try setting your bar so high.

One more thing- I got all mopey a few months back and took down the older posts. Lucky for me, a friend had them all saved. Note to future self: don’t destroy the blog, or shoot yourself in the foot again.

Image result for shooting your foot
Source: http://yargb.blogspot.com/2011/02/shooting-yourself-in-foot.html

Good day y’all!